The American Spectator
By Alfred S. Regnery – From the September 2011
Asked during the 2008 presidential campaign about his relationship with the left-wing radical Bill Ayers, Barack Obama replied that Ayers was just “a guy who lives in my neighborhood.” He implied that to even bring that questionable relationship out of the shadows was a mean-spirited, guilt-by-association political tactic. Ayers, Obama went on, had done something deplorable “forty years ago when I was six or seven years old.”
Otherwise, Obama insisted, Ayers was a paragon of virtue: a respectable fixture in mainstream Chicago, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, on a foundation board focused on education that included “Republicans, bankers, lawyers.” Ayers had even worked for, and was a good friend of, Mayor Richard M. Daley. The Obama campaign at once launched a crusade to distance Obama from Ayers. It went so far as to actually defend the man who had implicated himself in terror bombings in his own 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days.
In fact, Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, were radical Marxist revolutionaries in the Vietnam War era. They were founders of the Weather Underground, a violent terrorist arm of Students for a Democratic Society. Both were eventually indicted in federal court, and Dohrn by the State of Illinois. Rather than face a trial they jumped bail and disappeared into the underground in 1970. After they resurfaced 11 years later, both were admitted into the halls of academia. Ayers became a Distinguished Professor of Education and a Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Incredibly, Dohrn became a law professor at Northwestern.
The American Spectator has developed information that demonstrates, without any doubt, that Ayers and Dohrn have spent a lifetime advocating and practicing the strategies and tactics of Marxism. That includes the violent overthrow of the United States government. It also involves treasonous cooperation with revolutionary Communist governments in China, North Vietnam, and Cuba during the 1960s and ’70s and, until the fall of the Eastern Bloc, governments in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. But unlike many of their compatriots from those days of violence and turmoil, Ayers and Dohrn are completely unrepentant about their past activities. To this day, they continue to support destruction of the American free enterprise system and its replacement with a Marxist utopia.
What, then, is the relationship between these two hard-core leftist revolutionaries and the president of the United States, and why is it important?
It is important, first, because Obama, along with Ayers and Dohrn, went to great lengths to mislead voters during the fall of 2008. They “just lived in the same neighborhood” and had little contact, they pretended. On the contrary, The American Spectator’s investigation has concluded that Obama and his campaign staff, with the help of the mainstream media, lied outright about his relationship with Ayers. It has also concluded that Ayers lied about it as well. The Ayers-Obama association is far deeper, longer, and more significant than was ever acknowledged during the campaign.
The relationship is important, second, because Ayers and Dohrn are not reformed former radicals who have abandoned their old habits. Indeed, they are unrepentant, violent radicals who may have adopted new tactics to upend the United States and what it stands for, but whose goals remain just what they were in 1970.
Furthermore, the relationship is important because of the policies and issues that both Ayers and, to a lesser degree, Dohrn worked on with Obama during the 20 years preceding his election to the presidency. These include education reform, juvenile justice, ACORN, and community organizing, among others. Taken together, they demonstrate the extent to which these hard-core left-wingers influenced today’s president of the United States.
Finally, it is important because of Ayers’s relationship, through his powerful businessman father, with Chicago’s Daley family, who happen to be among the most ardent Obama supporters and promoters. As Chicago’s state’s attorney, Richard M. Daley presided over the plea bargain for Dohrn when she surfaced from the underground. He later continued to support Ayers and Dohrn during his long tenure as mayor of Chicago from 1989 to 2011. Daley even launched an unapologetic defense of Ayers when the relationship with Obama was exposed during the 2008 campaign.
BILL AYERS is a limousine revolutionary. He was born into a wealthy Chicago family, raised in the leafy western Chicago suburbs, educated at the best schools, and benefited from connections and privilege wherever he turned. His father, Thomas Ayers, was CEO and president of Commonwealth Edison, Chicago’s electric utility company, and sat on several influential boards, including those of the Chicago Tribune, Northwestern University, and the Chicago Symphony. In 1966, Mayor Richard J. Daley enlisted Thomas Ayers, a close friend, to head negotiations with Dr. Martin Luther King for a city-wide open housing agreement. Tom Ayers was so successful at talking out of both sides of his mouth that King claimed victory while, according to local press accounts, Daley could claim he was able to “preserve the segregationist status quo.”
After a couple of mediocre years in a suburban public high school, Bill Ayers transferred to Lake Forest Academy, an upscale prep school for boys on suburban Chicago’s north shore. (I attended the same school, before Ayers’s arrival). He then went on to the University of Michigan in 1963, where he liked to consider himself a jock because he roomed with the Wolverines’ star running back. He spent a summer working for Leo Burnett, Chicago’s largest ad agency, a job arranged by his father. But he soon joined protests and demonstrations. He was arrested and spent 10 days in jail for trying to disrupt the Ann Arbor draft board. Shortly thereafter he joined Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and was well on his way to becoming a Marxist and self-styled radical revolutionary.
Bernardine Dohrn seemed made for Ayers; one has to wonder if God doesn’t find the perfect mate even for people who don’t believe in Him. A native of Milwaukee, Dohrn spent her first two years of college at Miami University of Ohio, but transferred to the University of Chicago after she was blackballed at the Delta Delta Delta sorority because she was half-Jewish. She graduated from the University of Chicago law school. But instead of taking the bar exam, she became an organizer for the National Lawyers Guild, a group identified by the FBI as a Communist front. She also became active in SDS.
As she rose to prominence in SDS, Dohrn and Mark Rudd, leader of the SDS at Columbia, split off from SDS in 1969. For them, SDS was too passive in its radicalism and opposition to the Vietnam War. They believed a more militant group, one that would preach violent class hatred and worldwide revolution, was needed. They called themselves the Weathermen after the Bob Dylan line, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
Dohrn was unique in far-left circles: no wire-rims, no stringy hair, and no sackcloth. Peter Collier and David Horowitz, in their 1989 book Destructive Generation, write that when Dohrn arrived in New York City in 1967, “with her tight miniskirt and knee-high Italian leather boots, she created an instant sensation among males in Movement circles.” Even SDS president Greg Calvert was astonished. “I’ll never forget the first time I saw Bernardine,” he said. “She was wearing an orange sweater and a purple skirt, and while everyone else had on Stop the War buttons, hers said Cunnilingus is Cool, Fellatio is Fun. She had a boyfriend…but like others buoyed by the new air of sexual freedom, she had relationships with men who interested her.” J. Edgar Hoover later nicknamed her “La Pasionaria of the Lunatic Left.”
DOHRN WAS ALWAYS one of SDS’s most radical and outspoken leaders. When she ran for SDS “Interorganizational Secretary” in 1968, she was asked whether she was a socialist. When she answered that she was a revolutionary communist, she won by a landslide. In order to assure everybody of her bona fides, she announced that “what we’re about is being crazy motherf—ers and scaring the s–t out of honky America.”
Although Ayers and Dohrn were both active Weathermen during the late 1960s, they did not hook up until sometime in 1969. But in the meantime, Ayers’s libido was as vibrant as Dohrn’s. He bragged to his comrades of dozens of sexual exploits, and wrote in his book Fugitive Days, “We assumed an outlaw stance, embraced a subversive sexual style, and resisted civic instruction in sexual propriety, blazing utopian trails shimmering with mystery and romance, dripping with desire, swollen with excess. Our lovemaking filled the crackling skies.” He went on to describe an orgy of the most extreme proportions: “We experimented feverishly because we were kids, and because our instincts were anarchistic, vigorous and unrestrained. One night after a fierce and bloody demonstration in Washington, a hundred of us created a moaning sexual pageant in a loft off Dupont Circle, flaunting and parading our outrageous exuberance.”
They may have talked about childlike exuberance, but what they actually did was not childlike at all. A summary of Weathermen activity prepared by the FBI in 1976 concluded that Ayers and his comrades were full-blown Marxists intent on violently undermining the United States while aiding the North Vietnamese in their struggle against “American Imperialism.” Ayers, according to the FBI report, unabashedly claimed that his “National Action” against the Vietnam War was designed to help the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong, and would help build an American revolutionary youth movement.
It did not take long for rhetoric to be replaced with violence. In October 1969 the Weathermen launched their “Days of Rage” against the war with a dynamite blast that destroyed a police monument in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, followed by a window-smashing rampage through the Loop. Over the next several days, police were assaulted, more windows were smashed, and police narrowly averted a riotous assault on the home of federal judge Julius Hoffman, the feisty jurist who was about to preside over the Chicago Eight conspiracy trial. According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, “during the chaos, which lasted four days, 290 militants were arrested, 63 people, mostly police officers, were injured and thousands of dollars of damage was done, mostly by smashing windows and cars.”
But attacking police and smashing windows was not enough to satisfy Ayers’s appetite for destruction. Two months later he and several other Weathermen leaders set up an explosives factory in a house in New York’s Greenwich Village. They intended to make bombs to blow up Fort Dix, in New Jersey, and police headquarters in New York and Detroit. But one of the bombs accidently exploded, leveling the town house and killing three people. According to the Washington Post, the Weathermen claimed responsibility for 25 bombings, including the Pentagon in 1972 and the State Department in 1975. The 1976 FBI report detailed at least 30 bombings and attempted bombings by the Weathermen between October 1969 and September 1975.
Ayers has always claimed that his bombings were designed to damage property. In fact they killed at least seven people, three of whom were police officers. The worst, and perhaps most notorious, was the 1981 armed robbery of a Brinks armored truck in Nanuet, New York, in which two police officers and a Brinks guard were killed. Ayers was not directly involved, although Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, two of his close Weatherman comrades, were. One former member of the Weathermen, Larry Grathwohl, became an FBI informant and later testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had been in meetings with Ayers where it was made clear that Ayers wanted people killed or injured by his bombs. Grathwohl said that when “Billy Ayers gave me instructions on where and when to place explosives, I warned him that people would be killed. ‘In a revolution,’ Ayers replied, ‘some people have to die.'”
Dohrn was no innocent bystander in Billy’s bombing craze. In February 1970, the Weathermen placed a bomb on a window ledge at a San Francisco police station; it killed one officer and injured eight others. According to Grathwohl’s Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, Ayers told him that Bernardine Dohrn had planned, developed, and carried out the San Francisco bombing.
AS IF demonstrations, inciting riots, and bombings were not enough, Ayers and Dohrn also committed acts of treason against the United States. According to FBI reports obtained by The American Spectator, Weathermen led by the couple committed themselves to the armed struggle in support of international communism. In 1968 they began meeting with foreign government officials to help further their cause.
Dohrn and 27 other Weathermen members traveled to Yugoslavia and Hungary in 1968 to meet with representatives of the Viet Cong and to discuss how further student unrest in the U.S. might assist the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. She also maintained close relationships with members of the Cuban UN mission in New York. She made several trips to Cuba, where, according to the FBI reports, she met with Cuban and Vietnamese intelligence officers to plan strategies to frustrate American efforts in Vietnam. According to an FBI agent who followed her activities, in the late 1960s Dohrn lived in the San Francisco home of a Chinese Communist agent.
Ayers, for his part, must have been in higher demand at home, and we know only of several trips to Canada. But not to go fishing: in one meeting with representatives of the North Vietnamese government in Toronto, Ayers was presented with a ring made from the metal of an American airplane shot down over North Vietnam. Later, he said he was so moved by the gesture that he “left the room to cry. I realized…America was evil…and that I was…living inside the belly of the beast…”
In April 1970, federal prosecutors charged Ayers and Dohrn, among others, with inciting riots. Two months later a federal grand jury indicted them and 12 others for conspiracy to bomb and kill civilians. Rather than sit through a boring and lengthy trial with the danger of spending time in the federal penitentiary, Ayers and Dohrn slipped out the back door and went underground. There they stayed, evading the police and committing acts of violence for the next 11 years. Ayers and Dohrn, still unmarried, had two children during their fugitive days and both were added to the FBI’s “10 Most Wanted” list. Henceforth, the Weathermen would be known as the Weather Underground.
Bombings and other violent activity were, according to Ayers, aimed at helping to end the Vietnam War. But his violent and terrorist activity continued on after the war ended. His self-proclaimed motive became “to build communist organization toward the stage where armed struggle becomes a mass phenomenon led by a Marxist-Leninist party: a revolutionary stage.”
In early December 1980, after 11 years on the lam, Ayers and Dohrn turned themselves in to authorities in Chicago. Unbeknownst to both, however, federal charges against them had been dropped in 1974 after the Supreme Court found the FBI’s wiretap techniques unconstitutional. (Dohrn had also been indicted in 1969 by a Cook County, Illinois, grand jury for aggravated battery and solicitation to commit mob action). The U.S. Department of Justice considered reindicting them, but did not. Dohrn eventually pleaded guilty to the Cook County indictment, paid a fine of $1,500, and received three years of probation. But two years later, after refusing to testify to a federal grand jury in New York investigating the Brinks robbery, Dohrn spent seven months in jail for contempt of court. The Associated Press reported that while in jail, “she changed her mind about one principle, her long-standing opposition to marriage…she took a weekend furlough to wed William Ayers, her longtime companion and her boys’ father.”
TWO INTERESTING ELECTIONS had taken place just weeks before Ayers and Dohrn emerged from the underground: Ronald Reagan was elected president, and Richard M. Daley, the son of Chicago’s longtime mayor, who would eventually become mayor himself, was elected Cook County state’s attorney. The New York Times reported that friends of Dohrn’s speculated that the couple were concerned that Reagan’s Justice Department would be tougher on them than Jimmy Carter’s, and getting in under the wire might give them a better deal. But the Daley election probably sheds more light on their timing.
Ayers had his lawyer contact the newly elected state’s attorney to coordinate the surrender. Daley was reported to have considered putting Dohrn on trial after she was arraigned on charges stemming from the 1969 Chicago “Days of Rage,” but evidence was stale, witnesses were gone or had forgotten whatever they once knew, and times had changed. So Dohrn agreed to the plea bargain and a slap on the wrist. Daley was no more a radical than his father, and it is impossible to know just what his motivation was in giving such a break to Dohrn. But he was his father’s son, and Bill Ayers’s father was Mayor Daley’s friend. More on the Daley connection later.
After Dohrn’s plea bargain, she and Ayers wasted no time becoming part of the liberal establishment. Ayers enrolled in a graduate program in education at Columbia University and earned his PhD. Dohrn, having graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 1967, passed the New York bar exam and was hired as a clerk in the New York office of Sidley & Austin, one of Chicago’s premier law firms (and, interestingly, the firm where Michelle Obama subsequently had her first job). But to its credit, the New York Bar found Bernardine unfit for the practice of law and refused to admit her. At least as recently as 1993, according to the Chicago Tribune, she had not found another bar association willing to admit her.
In 1987 Ayers and Dohrn moved back to Chicago and settled in Hyde Park, near the University of Chicago — and just around the corner from where the Obamas later lived. Ayers found a job at the University of Illinois at Chicago teaching education. According to a report in the City Journal, he also found “a new radical vocation. He dreamed of bringing the revolution from the streets to the schools.”
Ayers had found his “second act” — using the schools to further his revolutionary agenda. He became active in Chicago’s school reform movement, an effort to replace bureaucratic control of the schools with local control. But he made no bones about the fact that school reform was just a vehicle for teaching the kids revolutionary communism. He teamed up with one Michael Klonsky, former chairman of something called the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) of the USA. According to Stanley Kurtz’s thoroughly researched book, Radical in Chief (Threshold Editions, 2010), they worked “to introduce children to radical politics through ethically themed schooling.” You get the idea. In 2008 Ayers was elected Vice President for Curriculum Studies at the American Educational Research Association (AERA), where he would have considerable say as to what went into teacher-training manuals for colleges and public schools.
Dohrn bounced around a bit, eventually finding a job teaching at the Northwestern law school. She immersed herself in that cause célèbre of the left, juvenile justice. According to a contemporary report in the New York Times, she “continues the vision and the dream of her radical days [which] now lie in her work as director of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law,” where she “channels her still-radical ideals into action.” The Chicago Tribune later reported that dozens of alumni of both Northwestern and Illinois-Chicago “lodged complaints with the schools…Inflamed by what they see as the couple’s unrepentant attitude about their past, some alumni have also promised to withhold contributions from the schools.”
Both Dohrn and Ayers joined a number of boards and became active in all the usual liberal causes. They were welcomed by Chicago’s liberal establishment, and in 1997, Mayor Richard M. Daley made Ayers “Chicago’s Citizen of the Year.”
IT IS UNCLEAR JUST WHEN Barack Obama met Ayers and his wife or how well they came to know each other. But we do know that their paths have crossed many times. It may well have been in the early 1980s, when both were in New York and participating in far-left organizations and causes around Columbia University. Certainly they knew each other in the early 1990s, if not before, in Chicago when Obama was a community organizer and Ayers was working on juvenile justice and education reform.
In 1993, Ayers worked closely with ACORN on school reform while Obama was ACORN’s lawyer. They served on two foundation boards together in the mid-1990s. In 1995 Ayers and Dohrn hosted the famous party at their house for Obama when he announced his candidacy for the Illinois state senate.
After Obama was elected to the state senate in 1996, two of his major causes were — surprise — education reform and juvenile justice reform, the same two that Ayers and Dohrn were most involved in. Interviewed on ABC’s Good Morning America after the 2008 election, Ayers said, “we came together in Chicago, in the civic community, around issues of school improvement, around issues of fighting for the rights of poor neighborhoods to have jobs and housing and so on.” The Ayers-Obama relationship is covered in great depth by Stanley Kurtz.
So why did Obama find it so necessary to deny the relationship when it came to light during the 2008 campaign? And why did Ayers continually try to protect Obama by claiming they hardly knew each other? Ayers was clearly not just “a guy in my neighborhood,” as Obama claimed, but a member of the same social and political class of Hyde Park liberals. Both worked on the same issues, were involved with the same organizations, knew the same people, and were close enough that one would host a political coming-out party for the other.
Inconsistency is the most revealing clue to a lie. Obama and his campaign could not keep the Ayers relationship straight: while Obama and Ayers both tried to deny that they really knew each other, the campaign issued documents defending Ayers, saying that “it is a lie that Ayers is an unrepentant domestic terrorist.” The campaign attempted, with endorsements from Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley and two university professors, to make the case that Ayers was really a model citizen.
Obama went to great lengths to make the Ayers relationship go away. His campaign staff attempted to block an independent-expenditure TV ad campaign tying him to Ayers. They tried to intimidate talk radio hosts into not interviewing experts on the issue. They attempted to block access to archive records revealing more about the relationship.
The mainstream press went to bat for Obama as well. Both Chicago newspapers, the Sun Times and the Tribune, editorialized that the controversy was a “phony flap” and not worthy of the campaign. The Los Angeles Times wrote that there was no evidence that Ayers had any influence on Obama’s thinking. Mayor Daley issued a statement saying he also knew Bill Ayers and that he was a valued member of the Chicago community. He accused critics of the relationship of “playing guilt by association.” Ayers joined Obama in denying that they were friends — only vague acquaintances who had worked together on a couple of issues.
THE AYERS-OBAMA relationship would never have been an issue if Ayers (and Dohrn) had matured enough to leave their radical world behind. Starting with their emergence from the underground and reentry into Chicago’s liberal social scene, they never once expressed regret for what they had done. They had no remorse. They in fact emphasized, over and over again, that they remained committed radicals intent on destruction of Western values and the adoption of totalitarian socialism. In a 1998 interview with Connie Chung on ABC News, Dohrn said, “We’d do it again. I wish that we had done more. I wish we had been more militant.” Ayers famously said almost the same thing in a New York Times interview published on September 11, 2001.
Even liberals found them unrepentant. Salon.com, for example, found “not even the faintest evidence of penitence or apology, nor any consciousness of the fact that almost everybody else in America–left, right or center–thinks they were completely out to lunch.” And that perennial liberal apologist Michael Kinsley, writing in Time, said Ayers and Dohrn “remain spectacularly unrepentant, self-indulgent, unreflective — still bloated with a sense of entitlement, still smug with certainty.”
And what about the Daley connection? Ayers’s father, as mentioned, was an old friend and political supporter of Mayor Richard J. Daley. That same Daley, of course, presided over the Chicago police as they fought radicals like Ayers, who tried to disrupt the 1968 Democratic convention in his hometown. He had little time for war protesters.
But his son may have been one of Obama’s most significant supporters in 2008. He provided several of Obama’s most trusted aides and associates. They included consigliere Valerie Jarrett, campaign strategist David Axelrod, chiefs of staff Rahm Emanuel and William Daley (Richard M.’s brother), and other lesser-known henchmen. Richard M. Daley, as mentioned, guided Dohrn into her plea bargain, named Ayers Chicago’s citizen of the year, and stoutly defended the Obama-Ayers friendship. As he told the Chicago Tribune “…his father was a great friend of my father….Ayers has been in the forefront of a lot of education issues and helping us in public schools and things like that…they’re friends. So what? People do make mistakes in the past. You move on.”
The Daley family ruled Chicago for nearly 45 years. They are skillful big-city machine politicians who do not like to lose elections and, being Irish, have a strong sense of family. As Michael Barone wrote in U.S. News & World Report in August of 2008, “For Daley, family is paramount, and Ayers is admitted into le tout Chicago because his father is one of its pillars. And electoral politics is also paramount…The current Mayor Daley has maintained very strong support from lakefront liberals, including the Hyde Park/Kenwood leftists like Ayers who were the original movers behind Obama’s 1996 state senate candidacy….Staying Mayor is real important to Daley, and Daley staying mayor is real important to le tout Chicago. An unrepentant terrorist? Hey, we know your dad.”
The elite Chicago liberals’ — and Obama’s — acceptance of Ayers and Dohrn as equals is the ultimate expression of the left’s descent into degeneracy. It demonstrates a complete refusal to recognize the difference between right and wrong, the difference between morality and immorality, and the difference between moderation and nihilism. To liberalism’s elites, it is fair to say that there are no enemies on the left.
The American people still do not know the real Barack Obama. They don’t know much about his past, his education, where he comes from, or the culture that shaped him. And that is just the way Obama and his political handlers want it to be — they have all been around long enough to know that his past would not be much of a political asset. But one thing we do know about him is who his friends are. Jeremiah Wright. Valerie Jarrett. David Axelrod. And of course, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.
My mother used to tell me that you are judged by the company you keep. Which may just give us a little insight into who Barack Obama really is.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Alfred S. Regnery is a former publisher of The American Spectator. He is the former president and publisher of Regnery Publishing, Inc., which produced twenty-two New York Times bestsellers during his tenure. Regnery also served in the Justice Department during the Reagan Administration, worked on the U.S. Senate staff, and has been in private law practice. He currently serves on several corporate and non-profit boards, and is the Chairman of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute .